the fear of beauty

i went to see the Crisis, Contemplation and Catharsis art exhibition at St Pat’s yesterday. There are some stunning moments in the exhibition – the shrouds which took my breath away, the confession booth with the avideo loop of poetry and images that tell of evil and redemption in history’s atrocities, the glorious frosted window which glowed with light, the carved out wooden block… It was thought provoking at times, intriguing, provocative, startling, beautiful… and, to say the least, controversial. It doesn’t seem to be the art that’s controversial, it’s more the idea of this art being in the cathedral (which is ironic, given that it has art woven into the very fabric of the building).

I was talking to David Rastas, the curator of the exhibition. He was telling me of some lovely, heartfelt, moving responses from visitors. He has also copped quite extraordinary, almost violent response to the exhibition. Some comments in the visitors book include words like offensive, disgusting, profane… and often they aren’t talking about the art itself, more about the very idea of having art in the cathedral. it’s a deeply emotional response. it feels like a fear of beauty.

the exhibition is on in Melbourne until the 18th May, and then it moves to St Mary’s in Sydney. If you go, have a chat to David. He’s not only a great artist (and harp player!), he’s also starting an artists in residence program at an old school that’s connected to the Catholic church in Nth Fitzroy. He and 5 other artists will have studios in the school classrooms. David is working with the congregation, producing contemporary art for the lectionary readings each sunday, and developing art that reflects the spirituality of the community. He’s also running workshops that are open to the broader public. We’re meeting up again on his return to melbourne after the Sydney exhibition, to talk about how our work might connect.


  1. Hi Cheryl,

    Thanks for the heads-up (which I received via Kel at

    Wandered up today and will probably do so again tomorrow, and conveniently bumped into Mark Pierson while I was there.

    The various artworks and the wandering journey between then, and contemplation around the church reminded me a lot of what we’ve seen when running the Labyrinth – as well as the occasional hostile response!


  2. Dave w

    can’t wait till its in syd – any sydney-ish siders (i’m in wollongong) want to have a coffee/beer afterwards and chat???

  3. Cheryl

    hi Eddie – welcome! where are you working? would love to hear about how the labyrinth stuff is going – coffee sometime?

    Dave… hope you find some takers!

  4. Happy to catch up sometime Cheryl – Labyrinth is on a bit of a pause right now (as I have my normal day job to contend with) but can be resurrected at a moment’s notice…

    Coffee sounds good – give me a buzz on email ( and we can line something up.

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